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Customer Feedback: Hard-Learned Lessons. By Josh Weisberg

  • The story he used to tell had him showing up on a boat from Eastern Europe, with little Sister in tow, around 1912. They had left a small village outside of Kiev with a small amount of money and the name of a relative living in Albany, NY. Their parents had sent them off on this risky journey rather than face the danger of the next pogrom. My Grandfather must have been thirteen or fourteen at the time.
  • Once he arrived in New York he found work wherever he could, running a pushcart, becoming a spotlight operator for a vaudeville house and finally opening up a grocery store in Brooklyn Heights. This turned out to be a providential move as the depression hit soon after and many in the growing clan lost their jobs, relying on the little store as a source of employment and low-cost groceries.
  • Fast-forward forty years to another fourteen-year old growing up in entirely different circumstances. In this case, the adolescent in question used the employment opportunities offered by the delicatessen to satisfy a serious electric guitar addiction. My Father, in his infinite wisdom, would front me the money to purchase the next item I needed to fuel my run to rock stardom, in return for a promise to spend a substantial portion of my free time working in the store. As I have told most of my employees, it was there that I learned many important lessons about customer service, lessons that follow me to this day.
  • One important aspect of customer service is managing the loop between the service provider and the service user. In many organizations this loop is estranged as the service provider has little or no direct feedback from the service user. In extremely simple terms the sales people sell the service, the operations people provide the service, the user uses the service and if theres a problem, perhaps a customer "service" person interfaces with the user. In properly functioning organizations, there is tie between the sales, operations and customer service areas so that problems are communicated back through the organization and addressed at each of those levels.
  • However, it can be the case that there is little effective communications between areas and when there is a disconnect between the service provider and the service user that results in a less than gratifying experience for the user, it passes unnoticed and nobody learns from the experience. As each positive customer experience is an opportunity to expand ones business, each negative experience is an opportunity to learn how to do things better and unless sales and operations people are directly involved in the results of the user experience, this opportunity may be lost.
  • So back to the delicatessen. As a fourteen year-old sandwich counter-person, I learned about customer service feedback first-hand since most of our customers were repeat customers and a tough crew at that. Our primary lunchtime customers were lawyers and judges from the nearby courts as well as cops and construction workers and all had strong opinions about what constituted a properly assembled corned beef sandwich opinions they had no problems expressing to the skinny kid behind the counter.
  • It was the most direct customer service response loop imaginable. If the customer had any issues with the previous days lunch, Id hear about the next day, most often in a caustic dialect of Brooklynese. Now, I didnt enjoy getting any guff from these characters, but I did have a basic desire to show them I was worthy so I responded to complaints by keeping track of the customers predilections and catering to them. If Officer McClusky only liked lean pastrami, thats what he got. If the cranky old lady I delivered groceries to once a week couldnt open cat food cans (for her cat) because of advanced arthritis, I opened the cans for her.
  • It was simply about understanding what your customers wanted and responding to those requirements. In the somewhat more complicated world of providing sophisticated audio and video gear to a demanding and cost-conscious clientele, its easy to lose sight of that simple concept. Look, its hard enough figuring out what to buy and how to pay for it without having to pay attention to every little client desire. Of course, we cant afford not to.
  • Many rental and staging companies have some type of institutionalized customer feedback system that not only provides customers with an effective method for stating issues, the system may also have a method for seeking out that feedback. Other companies have less formal methods that are as straightforward as calling important clients after the completion of important shows. The most important part of this process is getting the information from the client to all employees that have influence over the customer experience.
  • Take, as an example, a show for an important client that goes pretty well, but there are a couple of issues. There was nothing that threatened the show but perhaps there was an issue that cost a little extra money or reduced the comfort level of the client. Who is likely to know about this? The client, for sure. The show manager, most likely. The account executive, maybe. Will the person or persons who caused the issue know about it? Id say the odds are 50%. Will anything be learned that will keep the issue from re-occurring or do we just chalk it up to "stuff happens"?
  • Therefore, we need a way to make sure the incidents are reported to the appropriate people in a way that is effective and does not denote direct criticism. This is a challenge, as our compatriots are not well versed in creating articulate, un-biased reporting. To battle this tendency we can create processes that reduce the burden of authoring, such as automated forms and we can install software to track the forms and responses.
  • However, even with those supports in place, we still have to instill an understanding in the staff that customer service is a tangible element and that they can influence that element in positive or negatives ways. If the staff is feeling it, we have to make sure that management is responsive to the staff as they monitor customer service aspects of their work and look for ways to improve customer service.
  • We may not always hear the customer as clearly as I was able during my early years, but I guarantee that they still have opinions to which we need to listen.